heaven_ali (heaven_ali) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

#120 Poor Caroline - Winifred Holtby (1931)

Caroline Denton-Smyth is an eccentric, dressed in trailing feathers and jangling beads, peering out from behind her lorgnette. Sitting alone in her West Kensington bedsitter, she dreams of the Christian Cinema Company - her vehicle for reform. For Caroline sees herself as a pioneer, one who must risk everything for the 'Cause of the Right'. Her Board of Directors is a motley crew including Basil St Denis, upper crust but impecunious; Joseph Isenbaum, aspiring to Society and Eton for his son; Eleanor de la Roux, Caroline's independent cousin from South Africa; Hugh Macafee, a curt Scottish film technician; young Father Mortimer, scarred from the First World War; and Clifton Johnson, a seedy American scenario writer on the make. Winifred Holtby affectionately observes the foibles of human nature in this sparkling satire, first published in 1931.

In 'Poor Caroline' we have several rather unlikeable characters, who all have something to do with the ill fated Christian Cinema Company, which has become Caroline Denton Smyth's dream and obsession, as she approaches her 72 birthday. Poor Caroline lives in shabby room, and has no money, but she has ideas, so many ideas and feels her big chance in life has finally come. She is too, a rather ridiculous character, she borrows money with no hope of returning it, and develops rather a crush on young Father Mortimer. She she is however ever hopeful, poignantly so, which I did find ever so slightly endearing, and she is undeniably the heroine of the book, in spite of, or maybe because of her exasperating inability to see things as they really are.
The novel opens as two younger cousins of Caroline's return to Yorkshire from London, having attended her funeral, they were rather glad of the chance to "go up to town" as one of them had needed a new coat. Their hilarity over Caroline's continuing ridiculousness even in death is desperately sad, and beautifully sets the tone of the whole novel. Each subsequent chapter introduces us to the characters who had become involved in some way with Caroline and her Christian Cinema Company, each of them soon thinking of her as "Poor Caroline".
I loved this novel, as I have loved everything else of Winifred Holtby's that I have read, that she lived to write so few is a tragedy in itself. Human beings and their failings are so well captured by Winifred Holtby, everything so beautifully observed and often satirised. A brilliant novel.

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